By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Phoenix) — Five months ago, Emy Gardea moved with her husband and seven children into a home in west Phoenix's Maryvale neighborhood.
The house came with a spacious yard and a fenceless pool — to Gardea's surprise and her kids' delight.
Gardea was concerned about the security buffer a fence would offer, so for a while, her kids — ranging in age from one-to 17-years old — could not play much in the backyard unless a parent was watching.
"You can tell your kids (about water safety), but they can get caught up so much in playING that they don't realize how a simple accident can happen in the blink of an eye," Gardea told NewsBreak via phone. "It can turn very tragic."
The Gardea family was one of nine selected to receive a free pool fence installation as part of a cooperative effort between the Child Crisis Arizona, United Phoenix Firefighters Charities (UPFC), and the Salt River Project (SRP). Gardea came across an application via a social media link, and received word in August that it had been accepted.
After the family's fence was installed late last month, Gardea received immediate peace of mind.
"Just since then, my kids have already been able to think of fun things to do and enjoy the backyard safely," she said. "Everyone was excited, especially the kids."
Emphasizing water safety
The unified effort from Child Crisis Arizona, the UPFC, and local utilities giant SRP to install free pool fences for select Valley families stretches back 20 years.
Child Crisis Arizona is the Pool Fence Safety Program's facilitator. The organization was responsible for selecting the committee that combed through 33 applications and rendered final decisions on the winning families.
This year, families in seven cities — Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, and Surprise — had the new barriers installed, free of charge.
"There is nothing more aggressive in preventing tragedies than putting in a pool fence," UPFC spokesperson David Ramirez said via statement. "Child drownings are truly a community problem. We are encouraged to have organizations like SRP and Child Crisis Arizona step up and lead this effort."
In June, Phoenix Children's Hospital stated that children in Arizona aged one to four are drowning at a rate nearly twice the national average. The state reported 16 fatal child drownings in pools or spas last year, twice the number reported in the 2020 swim season.
"I feel blessed"
Jessica Ochoa lives in Mesa, where she is helping to raise three children — including a nine-year-old with cognitive and developmental disabilities, as well as a baby born during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ochoa's sister heard about the Pool Fence Safety Program through Instagram and encouraged her to apply, given her family's unique situation.
"I was just imagining the craziest things that could happen with the back door or side gate being left open," Ochoa told NewsBreak via phone. "When I saw the Instagram post, I thought it was a perfect opportunity (for a) sense of peace."
Ochoa's application was approved and she had her fence installed in August, just in time for Labor Day. She is the only member of her extended family with a backyard pool, and having the barrier in place allowed her to comfortably host her sister, her parents, and her friends for the holiday.
Ochoa said her feelings of being overwhelmed have been eased since her fence with a door that closes in seconds went up adjacent to her pool.
"I feel blessed in a sense that I was lucky enough to be picked ... It's just awesome that (Child Crisis Arizona) did this, especially with all the drownings the past year," she said.
Families interested in applying during next year's cycle can receive more information about eligibility and sign up for alerts on Child Crisis Arizona's website.